The SEC's Worst Losses: Georgia

If Memorial Gym is about half full, it's going to feel like a home game for the Bulldogs. - Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt is riding high after holding Mississippi State to just 31 points in their last outing. Can they follow the Bulldogs' example to make it a winning streak when they face Georgia on Wednesday?

Vanderbilt needed a cathartic win in 2013. Last Saturday, they got it.

The Commodores routed Mississippi State in Starksville, pulling off one of the biggest blowouts in the SEC this season behind a 72-31 victory. Players like Kevin Bright, Sheldon Jeter, Josh Henderson, and Shelby Moats all came through to contributed in a spirit-lifting win for Kevin Stallings's team.

That win over State will have some significance on Wednesday when the 'Dores host 7-7 Georgia. Georgia is one of only two SEC teams that the Bulldogs have beaten this year, earning an 11-point win in their second game of the conference schedule. Since then, State has lost 12 straight conference games. UGA, on the other hand, has reeled off a five-game winning streak and a three-game losing streak in a season that has been all over the board.

The Bulldogs have largely beaten the teams they've been favored against and lost as underdogs in 2013. They've recorded wins against the mid-level teams of the SEC and some out-of-conference cupcakes while losing to programs like Florida, Missouri, Indiana, and UCLA. There are also some embarrassing losses on their slate as well - a 12-point home loss to Youngstown State, road defeats against South Florida and Georgia Tech, and the aforementioned upset at the hands of the SEC's other Bulldogs.

That means that Georgia is ripe for a road loss, and Memorial Gym is just the kind of setting that can accomodate that. Vanderbilt will have to bring the fire they brought to Saturday's blowout to prove that they can rise from the lower level of the SEC and earn a first-day bye when the league tournament rolls around. Can the 'Dores follow Mississippi State's example when it comes to taking down the East's Bulldogs? Let's look at how MSU beat Georgia back in January.

Georgia (13-14 overall, 7-7 SEC, Unranked)

Worst Loss: vs Mississippi State (KenPom #272, CBS RPI #241) 61-72
Other Bad Losses: vs. Iona, at Georgia Tech, at South Florida, vs. Youngstown State

A month and a half ago, Mississippi State was actually tied for the SEC lead with a sparkling 2-0 record. Of course, that didn't last. Now they're 2-12 in conference play and riding out the end of a forgettable season. Still, they can always say that they earned the right to be called the best Bulldogs in the conference.

State trailed with under eight minutes to play, but a 10-0 run put Georgia on the ropes and gave State's young team a much needed injection of confidence. The Bulldogs came together defensively to keep UGA to just two field goals in the final nine minutes of play to rally for their biggest win of the season. Georgia went 1-8 in crunch time and turned the ball over six times to hand Mississippi State the win.

Key to Destruction: Backcourt scoring. MSU's big men, Gavin Ware and Colin Borchert, combined for just 11 of State's 72 points back in January. Instead, undersized but athletic guards Jalen Steele and Craig Sword shouldered the weight on offense. Steele had his best game of the season in a 21-point performance and Sword added 16 to keep Georgia at bay. Both players used solid outside shooting performances to stretch the UGA defense and carry the 'Dogs to one of their best offensive showings of the year.

That's good news for Vanderbilt, as the Commodores have a wealth of potential breakout scorers in their backcourt. Kyle Fuller, Dai-Jon Parker, and Sheldon Jeter have all shown that they can drive the Vandy offense against the right opponent. Kedren Johnson fits that bill as well, though he's been slowed by a nagging shoulder injury as the season wears on. Those players can be the engine behind a balanced attack that should incorporate steadily improving frontcourt guys like Josh Henderson and Kevin Bright as the game wears on.

Keys to the Game:
  • Three-point shooting. State's prowess from behind the line sparked the rally that gave MSU the lead and threw Georgia into catch-up mode. Back-to-back threes from Jalen Steele pushed the Bulldogs out to a nine-point lead and effectively sunk UGA on their home court. For the night, Mississippi State shot 9-20 from long range.
  • Clamp down on the perimeter - particularly on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Caldwell-Pope is UGA's leading scorer, and only one player comes with 10 points of his points-per-game average. State limited him to just 5-14 shooting and turned him from a volume scorer into an inefficient gunner in their win. That perimeter defense also caused a number of key turnovers late in the game that kept Georgia from making a late comeback against MSU.
  • Play like veterans. Like Vanderbilt, Georgia has a young team in 2013. Caldwell-Pope is just a sophomore and their two leading scorers behind him, Nemanja Djurisic and Charles Mann, are underclassmen as well. The Bulldogs pressured that trio into nine turnovers and 10-28 shooting on the night. Vandy stepped up to play beyond their experience on Saturday when they routed a rebuilding Mississippi State team. Georgia isn't nearly in the same boat, but they'll provide a similar opportunity on Wednesday.
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